Neil Shirley is a connoisseur of bikes, no matter the bar shape, wheel size or surface the man knows his self-powered, two wheeled machines. Having graduated from the pro mountain and road scenes to race (and most importantly enjoy) multi-surfaced, notoriously long and especially challenging events with friends -- that we'd argue might be just as hard as his racing days, but no doubt twice as fun, we figured who better to ask about the continuously growing Fall Fondo scene in sunny Southern California than the man himself.
What do you love about the Gran Fondo/Century scene around home?
Coming from a racing background where it was all about results and less about the experience, the Gran Fondo scene is truly the opposite of that. You still get to ride hard, yet it’s not only about that. It’s a very social atmosphere where the post-event party is as much of a part of the day as the ride is.
You've done the Mammoth Fondo a few times now, what makes that one particularly special?
My first time doing the Mammoth Gran Fondo was eye opening. I had been to the area numerous times, but where the course took us was totally new to me. The roads had almost no traffic and the views of the High Sierra were breathtaking. Four years later, the views are still the same but more people have heard how good of an event it is and it’s grown to nearly 1,500 riders. The increase in participants really makes for a great social experience around the entire weekend.
What's the idea behind the 'extra credit' day two Fondo?
This was something we started a few years back when the Interbike show in Las Vegas was the following week. The day after the Fondo 6-10 of us would ride halfway to Vegas, about 140-miles, and then jump in a van and drive the rest of the way. Interbike has since changed their dates so riding toward Vegas no longer makes sense, but it was such a fun addition to the Fondo that we simply made a 130-mile loop that starts and finishes in Mammoth Lakes so we can continue ensuring that every single muscle in our body is exhausted come Monday.
Do your mind and body usually feel better or worse after day two and why?
I’d say both the mind and body were running on fumes the second day this year. I don’t have as many miles in my legs as I have in the past and when you stack two massive days back to back the chinks in the armor are quickly found out. That’s okay though, and wasn’t unexpected. I just had to be aware of it and make sure I rode within myself when it came to the intensity.
As a mostly sea level athlete, how do you deal with hard efforts at elevation when you're not elevation adapted?
There’s no getting around the fact that you’re going to lose a substantial amount of power when going up to 8,000 feet in elevation. A couple of things I make sure to pay attention to are my hydration and pacing. At altitude your breath rate will increase and every time you breath you’re losing fluids, so drinking more than when at sea level is key to staying hydrated. The second thing is making sure I don’t go anaerobic, or red line, at altitude. Once you go anaerobic it takes much longer at altitude to recover and get your heart rate back down.
How does Topical Edge play a part in preparing your legs?
Knowing that I had two big days in a row, and wanting to get the most out of myself for the Fondo, I was more liberal than normal with my Topical Edge use. I figured I needed all the help I could get! Pre-ride I did two applications, one 1-hour before the ride and another 30-minutes out, and then one application post-ride. Even though my fitness wasn’t spot on, I didn’t have any muscle soreness after riding hard for 102-miles on the Fondo.
Whether someone is tackling their first fondo or 10th, what is your number one tip to get the most out of the experience?
I would say go into it looking to maximize the fun. That might mean different things to different people. This year, I rode hard with the front group for the first 40-miles and then had a plan to re-group at the second feed zone with some friends. We did that and rode as a group for the remainder of the day. For me, that was maximizing the fun. I got to ride hard early on and then enjoy the social part later on in the ride.
You never know what you may find on your next ride...
Photos Scott Lundy